Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Pride Month City Hall Proclamation Acceptance Speech

Author’s note: The following was given as a speech at Toronto City Hall on Tuesday June 4th 2019 (edit: Corrected from 2018, a typo), in acceptance of the Mayor’s Proclamation of Pride Month for the City of Toronto, in my capacity as a member of the Board of Directors for Pride Toronto.

Good afternoon, persons and gentlebeings. We gather here, about to raise our rainbow and transgender Pride flags on City Hall’s courtesy flagpole, an unmistakable symbol of colonialism, following a beautiful and educational Indigenous opening ceremony. I hope that irony’s not lost on anyone.

Where we are, and how we got here, is something we must all consider in these uncertain times, and we should reflect on the meaning of this official proclamation of Pride month, from our allies at the City of Toronto.

Pride’s partnership with the City has been since its inception, a mutually beneficial one.

Toronto City Hall showing Toronto Sign with Rainbow Outline

Toronto City Hall. Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

The Economic Impact report reveals that in 2018, Pride Toronto directly and indirectly stimulated $681 million dollars in economic activity in the GTA, supported 5,600 jobs, while overall generating nearly $235 million in tax revenues from Pride-related consumer activity.

Overall, a great return on the investment from the city’s $260 thousand dollar grant.

But the City gives us more than just funding. We appreciate the vocal support and allyship from our Toronto Councilors and Mayors, especially at times, including recently, when our public funding and legitimacy has been threatened, by other councillors at City Hall, or by politicians at other levels of government. Threats, committed publicly, and sometimes more privately.

The real motivations of these threats are typically cloaked by the issue of the day, be it an overblown concern for public nudity, or desire to censor a particular group’s right to protest. More recently, some have taken exception to the legal and democratic vote of our membership to no longer welcome uniformed police contingents into the parade, marches or festival.

In continually having to withstand these external threats to our funding, Pride stands in stark contrast to other cultural festivals whose funding goes unthreatened, with the primary distinguishing feature being that Pride is Queer, while the others are not.

We, and our allies must, continue to call out these asymmetric threats to our funding, no matter the source, for what they are: Acts of violence specifically directed against the queer community. An attempt to constrain and control our message and identity. And as with any threat, we will rise above it.

It has often been said, but always bears repeating the first Pride parade was a Riot, and the first Pride Festival, a picnic. As passionate, dedicated and experienced activists, we take it well to heart that we could, again, accomplish either, on a budget of zero, should the need arise. But, we remain grateful for the continuing mutually beneficial partnerships we now enjoy, for they allow Pride to put on an extraordinary festival seeking to share the cultural richness and diversity of our community with the city and the world.

That amazing festival would be impossible, but for the tireless efforts of our talented staff, including our Executive Director Olivia Nuamah, and a huge coalition of unpaid volunteers, over 1500 in 2018. And it would be impossible without the support of our allies at City Hall. And that allyship is more important than ever, as Pride faces new challenges and opportunities with each passing year, as the rise of condo developments and the influx of larger businesses manifest the force of gentrification. This forces more and more queer-owned businesses, and queer residents, out from what was once undeniably the geographic heart of the queer community in the city.

As we grow more dispersed and diverse, it’s more important than ever now we remain unified, both as a community and as allies.

We live in frightening times. As political realities surface new threats to the lives and existence of queers, women, racialized communities and immigrants, and our trusted institutions too often fail in their duty to protect and serve us equitably, we must continue finding new ways to protect ourselves and each other.

We live in a world where many of us are still unfairly targeted, still attacked, still killed, for consenting relationships between adults, or for how we express our gender, for differences in our physical or mental ability, or health, and for too many of our queer siblings, because of the colour of their skin. To support Pride means to support us, all of us, not just most but every single one of us, on equitable terms, every single day. Not for a weekend— Or even a month— But all year long.

Pride Toronto’s Mission, Vision, and Values states: “no matter who you love, how you identify, or who you choose to be, you will be safe, valued, equal, and proud.” That is a commitment, one we cannot make alone. Because as long as Pride remains unsafe for some of us, it is unsafe for us all.

A responsible Pride must never sell out its weakest, less mainstreamed, most marginalized members, for the sake of economic partnership, for reasons of profit or political expediency. We and our allies have been guilty of this in the past, and part of our journey is recognizing this and making our own amends.

But how does one begin to account for past harms and abuses, some still fresh. To say “I have done harm and am accountable. I am working hard. I have since done better, and I will do better.” How does a person. How does an organization. How does a city.

All of us must move forward not ignoring or denying our past, but acknowledging it while demanding real change be demonstrated in continuing this work. The health and success of our relationships must not be measured in handshakes and photo-opportunities— Or in dollars— But in lives saved, in safer spaces, and equality of treatment every day.

So, we accept this proclamation in the presence of friends and allies, while recognizing the great volume of work still to be done. We appreciate the City offering clearance and approval for Pride month, and for all of your continued allyship. Thank you all for coming, and Happy Pride.

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Christin Milloy